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I crave Milk. More importantly, I crave Harvey Milk.
As elections are coming up and folks on campus have been asking us ad infinitum if we need to update our voter registration, it is only fair that this column discusses some politics — more importantly, the fabulous gay ones.
It’s important for those of us in the LGBT community to go out and vote, and to know the history of our politics — from one of the first openly gay people to be elected to public office, Harvey Milk, to our current local representative in the House, Jared Polis. What’s better than a voter? An educated voter.
Harvey Bernard Milk was born May 22, 1930. He was not out about his sexuality until the age of 40, when he met his lover, Scott Smith. These two major shifts in Milk’s life would eventually culminate in his winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, with Smith supporting and promoting him during the campaign. Smith and Milk helped one another in their political activism and faced a barrage of criticism for the LGBT equality that they stood for. But with the help of the great migration of the LGBT community to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, these issues finally gained some traction in political office.
Milk’s position as board supervisor — which is comparable to a city council member — made him one of the heads for legislation of the entire city and county. He served on the board for 11 months. But on Nov. 27, 1978, he was assassinated by Dan White, a former fellow supervisor.
Milk was one of the first politicians in our country to be openly gay before being elected — coming second to Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Kathy Kozachenko in 1974 — and the first openly gay male. His term in office was one of the tipping points in LGBT politics. A passionate man, Milk was known for his vocal and theatrical political presence. Most of his debates and speeches were awe-inspiring. He was featured in the Oscar-winning 2008 biopic, “Milk.”
LGTB representation remains stagnant
In the 36 years since the assassination, LGBT representation in politics remains stagnant. According to the Portland Press Herald, only 1.4 percent of Congress’s 535 senators and congressmen were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual in 2013.
But the political climate in our country is becoming more accepting of the LGBT community. From 1996 to 2013, the amount of people who thought that same-sex couples and married couples should have the same rights doubled from 27 percent to 54 percent, according to a Gallup poll. Policies such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which forced LGBT members of the military to hide their sexuality, have been repealed. And the Supreme Court implicitly acknowledged the constitutionality of same-sex marriage earlier this month.
Today we are at the crux of another election. Rep. Jared Polis, the first publicly gay parent in Congress, is up for re-election. Polis is the representative of Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Boulder County. His position demonstrates how far we have come: We have a gay man in Congress, who is also a parent. Both Polis and Milk are a first in American politics in their own regards.
The politics of the two men are quite different. Milk was much more manic and theatrical, which in his time was what the community needed — visibility. Polis continues that visibility, but his role is more tailored to the debate and protection of LGBT rights in Congress, while Milk’s efforts were limited to San Francisco.
Polis supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexuality and gender identity. He introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the House floor, which, if passed, would prevent any school program that allows discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity from receiving federal funding. He also played a vocal role in the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Without politicians such as Milk, our politics in the gay community would be very different from what they are now. That does not undermine Polis’ role, but rather emphasizes a point: One must first begin before he can see the end. Polis continues what Milk and a few more LGBT politicians began in the 1970s.
What makes all of this change happen? Well, we do. Neither of these men would have made progress if we didn’t shout our voice during elections and follow those who we knew could defend us. Remember that we are a minority. Whoever we choose to represent us, we must be prepared to face the consequences — and the best way to ensure a good outcome is to vote intelligently. Remember Harvey Milk and Jared Polis when you are at the polls, and ask yourself: “Will this person fight for me?”
You can read more about Representative Polis’ policies here.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Josef Edwards at email@example.com.